Is there recent precedent for a band making such a profound about-face as the Horrors have done in the last few years? Pegged as kitschy goth-punks-come-lately on their 2007 debut "Strange House," the now London-based quintet gave critics whiplash with the noirish krautrock of "Primary Colours," which made their fanbase and skeptics alike reconsider them for the better.
With their third LP "Skying," a loving resurrection of the synth-soaked, heavy-ethereal rock of Echo & the Bunnymen and Primal Scream, they've proved that their revamp was no random bolt from the impeccably-influenced heavens. And at the El Rey on Thursday night, they cleared their last hurdle -- playing it out with enough muscle and noise to make their ambitions feel not just admirable, but essential.
First, let’s get this out of the way. The Horrors are just about the best-looking bunch of dudes taking stages today. Singer Faris Badwan is thin enough to pick locks with and wears a battered leather jacket better than anyone since “Easy Rider.” Guitarist Joshua Hayward hardly showed his face from behind his stage-curtain of messy hair, and bassist Rhys Webb is a bit of a dead ringer for the Stone Roses’ Mani in his '90s heyday.
All this is ancillary to the music, but in a time when pop music flirts with high-camp theatrics and too many live shows consist of guys hitting spacebars on laptops, the Horrors are one of very few rock bands who evoke that Elvis-old visual sense of making you feel cooler for being in the same room as them.
Fortunately, the same goes for their tunes. They played their “Primary Colours” staples, including “Sea Within A Sea” and “Scarlet Fields,” will all their steely, wire-tight tension, and gave them a new sense of urgency and noise. Hayward especially can rip off a pedalboard massacre like few peers today, and drummer Joe Spurgeon’s skill at staying in the pocket for eight minutes of eighth-note kick drums gives the band a menacing drive. But the tracks from “Skying” underlined how far they’ve come and how their options as a band are pretty much limitless.
The loping “Endless Blue” had the same dazed, morning-after-much-heroin quality as the Velvets’ “Sunday Morning,” while the “I Can See Through You” veered from skittish feedback to regal synthesizers and back again. Badwan has also grown exponentially as a vocalist, trading his early hellish shriek for an Ian Curtis deadpan on “Colours,” and now adding occasional hints of a doomed romantic whisper. “Still Life,” the band’s new single, is maybe their most accessible yet -– singed with feedback and treated samples, but built on Talk Talk’s sparkling keys and Badwan’s alternately reassuring and threatening promises that “when you wake up, you’ll find me.”
The way it’s looking, anyone invested in boundary-pushing rock will be waking to find the Horrors for years to come.
-- August Brown
Photo: The Horrors. Credit: Neil Krug